Coast Guard Chefs show their stuff at Prestigious Army Cooking Competition

by Petty Officer Kip Wadlow

Torches, electric grinders and chainsaws are tools usually found in garages, garden sheds and hardware stores, not kitchens.

But when these unusual cooking utensils are combined with a splash of pride, sprinkling of cross-service rivalry, a prestigious Army culinary competition, a handful of talented Coast Guard chefs and brought to a boil, it creates a recipe for success.

The nine men and women of the Coast Guard’s culinary team, representing the nation’s smallest military service, competing in the 32nd Annual U.S. Army Culinary Competition at Fort Lee, Va., did more than hold their own against the best culinary teams the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps have to offer. They won and won big.

Iron Chefs

Knives flashed, pots bubbled and flames roared into the air as Seaman Edward Fuchs (fooks), Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw, and Chief Petty Officer Justin Reed, Maintenance and Logistics Command, Atlantic, took part in the contest’s first events, the Junior and Senior Military Chef of the Year Competitions. Reed and Fuchs got the nine member Coast Guard culinary team off to a strong start, each earning a silver medal for their efforts.

In the chef of the year contest, competitors are given four hours to prepare a four-course meal from a pre-selected list of ingredients. The main difference between the divisions is that junior chefs are allowed to see the list of ingredients two days before the competition, allowing them time to practice preparing their meal. Senior chefs on the other hand are afforded no such luxury and must prepare their menu from scratch at the start of the competition.

Reed, a returning competitor in the Senior Chef division, put his cooking skills and experience to use preparing a meal which consisting of a small salad, oyster bisque soup, a pistachio crusted rack of lamb with a mustard mint sauce as an appetizer, a wild mushroom risotto cake topped with a Sea Bass fillet was served as the entrée followed by a chocolate soufflé for dessert.

“These judges are old school judges who like to see classical cuisine,” said Reed who used this knowledge while planning and preparing his meal.

“The food judges really liked the food that I made today,” said Reed happily.

The following day found Fuchs rushing to serve his entrée on time, a risotto topped with red peppers, shrimp and lobster.

“It’s a rush! It’s like the top gun for cooks with everybody trying to be the best,” said Fuchs, who competed in several similar cooking contests before joining the Coast Guard less than six months ago.

Fuchs said that when he wasn’t competing, he was busy sharing and comparing ideas with competitors from the other services. “What it boils down to at the end of the day is that we’re all cooks and everyone here has a passion for what they do,” said Fuchs.

Fuchs was also impressed by the amount of support given to him by his command.

“The Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw is a great boat, with a great command and a great crew. They’ve all been supportive of my coming to the competition,” said Fuchs.

“Right now they are running ice trials and are down one cook. It’s a very big and important time for them and to let me go like this shows great support for what I want to do,” Fuchs said.

Gathering the Ingredients

Coast Guard Team Captain, Chief Justin Reed was in charge of selecting team members for this year’s competition and chose the best Food Service Specialist’s (FS) he could find, drawing from the cutter fleet, several stations, the Academy and special command aides for the Fifth District and Atlantic Area commands.

“We all flowed and knew how to cover each other. It was just a great team,” said Reed.

It wasn’t all fun and games during the competition though. Team Coast Guard showed its mettle, cooking more than 24 hours straight at one point, putting final preparations on a table display.

“You get a bunch of Coasties together and they work together all the time, but this was really something else. Everybody stayed motivated for the full 24 hours that we worked,” said Reed.

Center of Attention

Towering 4-feet above the various trays of food on display at the Coast Guard team’s table was an Alaskan themed chocolate centerpiece.

Chief Warrant Officer Mike Malheiro, formerly of Integrated Support Command Ketchikan, Alaska, and Reed decided the theme of the centerpiece depicting native images of an owl, killer whale and the sun.

“The team was awesome, (they’re) some of the best FS’ I’ve had the pleasure to work with. We all helped each other on all of our projects throughout the competition,” said Malheiro, referring to the assistance they gave him in assembling the centerpiece. “I think it’s a great competition,” said Malheiro.

“Our FS’ don’t get many chances to advance their skills outside their day-to-day routine. This event allows them the opportunity to network and showcase their skills while receiving some extraordinary training,” said Malheiro.

FORT LEE, Va. - The Coast Guard culinary team's Alaskan-themed chocolate center pieceon display at the 32nd Annual U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competition. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer Mike Malheiro)

The Coast Guard culinary team’s Alaskan-themed chocolate center pieceon display at the 32nd Annual U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competition. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer Mike Malheiro)

Coast Guard Ice Breakers

Outside the kitchen Petty Officers 1st Class Larry Dagen and James Swenson used chisels, chainsaws and grinders to put the competition on ice by hacking, hewing and sculpting 300 pound blocks of ice into delicate, frozen center pieces.

The competition was the first for Dagen, a 10-year Coast Guard veteran currently assigned as the special command aide for the Atlantic Area Commander in Portsmouth, Va.

“It was an awesome experience. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. I’m just fortunate I had the opportunity to come and represent the Coast Guard,” said Dagen.

Swenson, food service quality manager at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., has been carving ice sculptures for the past three years. During the competition Swenson, who said he enjoys sculpting ice because it brings out his creative side, won three medals.

Putting his imagination to use, Swenson earned a bronze medal in the single block competition for sculpting an eagle, another bronze for his carving of a dragon and a gold medal in the five block team competition, along with FS1 Dagen and FSC Reed, for a sculpture of a wooly mammoth being attacked by a saber-toothed tiger.

“A gold medal in an American Culinary Federation sanctioned event is no joke. Very few are handed out. Only one other team received a gold medal this year and that team included two Army Master Sergeants who both had many years of ice carving experience,” said Swenson.

Swenson also said the competition between the ice carvers was tense with the other teams resorting to creative methods to jinx him during the competition.

“The Army kept placing ice on my station that they carved into ‘kryptonite’ as I competed against their teammates,” said Swenson.

Getting Noticed

The Coast Guard team’s efforts garnered a lot of attention, not only from the crowd but from Coast Guard Headquarters as well.

In attendance was Master Chief Philip Garrett, Coast Guard Food Service Specialist Rating Force Master Chief, and the person in charge of managing the Coast Guard’s food preparation work force. Garrett was very pleased and proud of the attention the team garnered during the competition.

“This is an awareness tool for the Coast Guard and the public as well, that our folks have the ability to compete, and compete well, with the other services,” said Garrett.

Garrett was also impressed by the knowledge team members gained by competing in the various events.

“Skill enhancement is a huge part of this. I can’t think of a better way to spend money than to send someone to a joint services event to see how things are done and to take that institutional knowledge and share that with their (service) communities as instructors and mentors,” said Garrett.

In addition to learning new skills Garrett hopes the competition will not only help retain personnel, but grow the job field by allowing the public to see Coast Guard chef’s utilizing their skills.

“The paramount of the program is for each person in the FS rating to receive absolutely the best training that we can give to prepare them for mission effectiveness and execution,” said Garrett.

Just Desserts

At the end of the competition the Coast Guard team proved that even though they represent the smallest branch of the military, they possess the determination and skills necessary to compete with larger teams from the other services, earning 18 medals overall, including three gold, six silvers and nine bronzes.

“We’ve come a long way,” said Reed, who hopes this year’s contest will be a springboard generating awareness about the competition, allowing more Coast Guard chefs to compete in future events.

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